Right after a Christmas Day victory over the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers will head to the Mile High City in search of their sixth straight victory. Steve Nash has definitely energized the lineup since returning from injury to run the point, and the Lakers are finally looking like a championship-caliber team. They are running on all cylinders and will look to continue their run against the Denver Nuggets tonight.
However, the Nuggets are a feisty team out for some post-holiday revenge. They too played on Christmas Day, losing to the Los Angeles Clippers, and there would be no better way to have some sort of vengeance than to beat another Los Angeles team.
The Lakers have struggled on the road this season, going just 5-8, so the Nuggets could very well get their wish. They have gone an astounding 8-1 at home, so it is definitely possible for them to pull off the upset.
Both teams also faced off earlier in the season, with the Lakers winning 122-103 on November 30. Antawn Jamison led the way that night, scoring 33 points and pulling down 12 rebounds, and Kobe Bryant chipped in 14 points and eight assists.
But Jamison is a non-factor now, with Nash and Pau Gasol back in the lineup. Denver likely won't have to worry about his three-point shooting, which makes the potential outcome of this game far different, and a game that should not be missed.
Time: Wednesday, December 26th, 9:00 p.m. EST
TV: Altitude Sports, Time Warner Cable Sportsnet
Records: Los Angeles Lakers (14-14) vs. Denver Nuggets (15-14)
Betting Line: Lakers (+3.5), Nuggets (-3.5)
Injuries: Steve Blake (abdomen, out), Wilson Chandler (hip, out), Julyan Stone (hip, out), Ty Lawson (Achilles, expected to play)
Key Storyline: Nuggets Seek to Avenge Earlier Loss and Break Lakers' Streak
Denver has also done a fine job of putting points on the board, ranking seventh in points scored and sixth in assists. The team's interior defense has been respectable as well, ranking third in rebounding.
Unfortunately, the Nuggets have been inconsistent on defense all season long. Though they can do their fare share of rebounding, stopping opposing players from scoring points is not their collective forte. Denver ranks 25th in points allowed, at 100.7 per game.
Los Angeles is a run-and-gun team led by head coach Mike D'Antoni, and also happens to be the best rebounding squad in the league on top of ranking fifth in points scored. They have been playing with a new attitude over their past five games, and Nash's recent return has only further fueled their motivation to do well.
The newly focused and balanced Lakers will thus try to continue their streak tonight, against a Denver team that has performed well at home all season. Both teams like to play a fast-paced offense, so a high-scoring night could definitely be in the works. Either way, the fans should tune in.
Key Matchup: Andre Iguodala vs. Kobe Bryant
He'll be in for quite the challenge tonight when he goes up against Andre Iguodala yet again. Iguodala is one of the best defenders in the NBA, and he held Bryant to just 14 points the first time these two teams met this season.
His numbers his first season in Denver have not been bad, but seem pretty low for a shooting guard. A natural small forward, Iguodala is averaging just 13.6 points per game and shooting just 32 percent from long range.
Losing the Black Mamba's skills on both sides of the floor would be a tremendous blow to the Lakers, so it is imperative that Iguodala win this battle if Denver is to walk away with the victory. Take Bryant out of the game, and the Lakers lose their best scoring option.
Take away the Lakers' best scorer, and their winning streak likely comes to an end.
X-Factor: Danilo Gallinari
Gallinari may seem like an odd choice for the game's X-factor, but he actually could give Denver a distinct advantage. He actually played for Mike D'Antoni for two and a half seasons before being sent to the Nuggets in the infamous Carmelo Anthony trade.
The man has inside knowledge as to how D'Antoni runs his system, so he could easily help give the Nuggets the upper hand on defense despite the fact that he himself is not a particularly strong defender.
The Nuggets will do all they can to stop the Lakers tonight. The sad part is that they will fail in their quest to break the team's winning streak.
I hate to say it, but Los Angeles is just too good now that they are at full strength and in a system designed to get the best out of everyone. Nash will run the pick-and-roll almost perfectly all game long, and Bryant will find a way past Iguodala's defense to once again lead the team in scoring.
Dwight Howard will prove to be too much for Denver's tandem of centers in Javale McGee and Kosta Koufos, dominating on both sides of the floor thanks to Nash. Metta World Peace will also contribute some clutch shots from beyond the arc.
Who will win?
On Denver's end, Ty Lawson will fight past his sore Achilles tendon to create as many plays as possible for his teammates, particularly Danilo Gallinari, but the Lakers' defense will just prove to be too much.
As deep and talented as the Nuggets are, they are still without an identity. Tonight, that will become blatantly obvious, and team management will be forced to consider moves to make at or before the trade deadline in hopes of bettering the team.
Los Angeles Lakers 115, Denver Nuggets 107